I returned to Rome yesterday. Italy is looking as lovely as ever, I think it missed me. The terracotta palazzos beamed in the bright blue, afternoon sky and the market near my apartment was bursting with life, as if the rickety, stalls opulent with colour, had been set up as a home-coming especially for me.
Giovanni, a small man of about sixty who owns a fruit stall I’d been going to at least twice a week, waved cheerily at me. His head and hand poked out of an enormous row of bobbing pineapples – it took me a second to register him amongst the spiky, nobbly faces.
“…terracotta palazzos beamed in the bright blue, afternoon sky and the market near my apartment was bursting with life, as if the rickety, stalls opulent with colour, had been set up as a home-coming especially for me”
I was looking forward to seeing the family. I hoped they’d missed me. Felt my absence at least a little. The boy showed his welcome, warmly as usual, by grunting at me – we’ve moved on from the silent treatment I see.
I’m not going to lie, the first few hours in the house yesterday felt terribly quiet, and I was unbelievably homesick. The really nostalgic kind. The kind where you wonder what it’s all for, why you forced yourself to leave roaring log fires, mugs of Yorkshire tea, smiles made of homemade trifle and hugs, that know and love you, Cumberland sausage and scenic English villages where men tip their hats at you. (Well, the last bit is a slight exaggeration, but you get the gist.) Then I told myself to get a grip, grow up and get on with it. I was in Rome, for God’s sake! There were definitely worse places I could be. (A drizzly, night bus in Peckham, or Scunthorpe.)
Anyway, back in the apartment I am. To the familiar mahogany smell and the sun creeping through the linen curtains. Elena (the glamourous mother of the children) came back from her Milan trip earlier today. She burst through the door in a sleek trouser suit and puckered lips then collapsed dramatically on the sofa. She is the epitome of yummy-mummy, but extremely busy and important. Which makes her – well – brilliant.
We have a nice relationship – not quite sisters, but we have an enormous, I like to think, sophisticated respect for each other. She gave me a tight hug. Unfortunately, rather than brimming with designer freebies, Chanel blazers trailing behind her, or questions about my family and post-Christmas glee, she looked me severely UP AND DOWN.
“Mi sembri….You look,” she leaned in and touched my shoulder, “I forget my Eeenglish! You look… beeeeg.”
I nearly dropped the plates I was holding.
“I want to say, healthy and…beeeegger.” I’m not sure if she was aware I’d heard her the first time. And equally offended the second time.
“Oh no, I understand!” I said. My ‘Eeeenglishness’ covering up the embarrassing moment kicking in. I was worried she would say it again.
“Christmas,” I waved my hand, “you know what it can get like.” I wanted to cry.
Moments later, two yoga mats were slapped on the floor in the living room, the chairs and table scrambled away. Oh God. All sound, light and children barricaded from the room. Silence. Then the familiar singing of a million, dancing dolphins in togas, that I’d heard every so often murmuring through the doors whilst reading to Teresa.
It isn’t that bad! I hear you throw your hands up.
It is an intense kind Elena had picked up from some kind of American Boot Camp for fat kids. Something Jennifer Aniston does twelve times a day, in a heated-pressure sauna, in between her roasted, stick-insect salad with cinnamon.
“…moments later, two yoga mats were slapped on the floor in the living room, the chairs and table scrambled away..Yoga…an intense kind…Jennifer Aniston does twelve times a day…in between her roasted, stick-insect salad with cinnamon..strictly no talking or whimpering”
I tried to concentrate. Strictly no talking or whimpering. I admired Elena’s vigilance to my health needs, ushering me into a rigorous regime after looking at post-Christmas-me for a mere ten seconds.
Did I really look that dreadful?
I’d like to say I didn’t feel like friendly, warthog Pumba being forced to align with nimble, lithe Simba during a gazelle-hunt, but I can’t. The breathing started slow, where of course all you can do is listen embarrassingly to the heaving of your own chest.
The trick is ignoring it, like with a lot of sports. Just get on with it or you will have cheeks and thighs like the discarded slabs of dough not even good enough to make pizza with. That is absolutely what Tracy Anderson and co. are thinking as she breezes “Keep going! You really can, and you really must!”
The thing with yoga is to just move swiftly, don’t think too much, isolate your limbs and ultimately feel a “union with the divine.” It is, when done correctly, the quest for ‘permanent peace’, as opposed to permanent pizza (my mind was elsewhere). Don’t get me wrong, I often practise yoga, and even, horrifically, around men with teeny-tiny speedos, otherwise known as ‘ladybird handkerchiefs’. I found myself lucky that I had, as a trainer for want of a better word, a long, limbed, Latino mamma, looping her legs up and all over the place.
The more I followed the steps, the more I relaxed into each movement. At the end, Elena and I flopped on the sofa with Pellegrino at hand.
“Mi sento molto piu’ libera – grazie per avermi incoraggiato di farlo!”
“I think I feel more liberated – thanks for making me do this!” I told her.
“You are welcome! It is nice to have you back.”
I thought she’d never say it.
“You know, I really think you need to find other ways to feel more…liberated…mmm?” She winked at me, in between gulps of fizzy water. Then smiling cunningly, a slight sheen on her honey-coloured forehead she raised her eyebrows. “Sai cosa voglio dire, tesoro? Do you know what I mean, honey?”
“I know what you mean – please, say no more.” I sighed.
She didn’t. She just winked again.
Enough comments for one day.
” ‘You know, I really think you need to find other ways to feel more…liberated… mmm?’ She winked.”